A group of modders decided to try and remake Fallout: New Vegas inside Fallout 4, but soon, they found themselves in a pickle. Well, more like a jar of pickles. First, there was the gargantuan game they had to spruce up—a years-long undertaking that has yet to make it to the finish line. Then, the modders found out that they couldn’t port over any of New Vegas’ voice acting. They’d have to recreate not just the neon-bathed sights of New Vegas, but the sounds as well.
Earlier this year, the team behind a similar mod that would have brought locations from Fallout 3 into Fallout 4 shut down after running into this problem. The mod’s developers had spoken with Bethesda and found out that their planned method to port over voice acting wouldn’t be allowed. After that, the mod team for Fallout 4: New Vegas posted about the voice acting issue, describing it as a “bump in the road,” but claiming that “development will go on.”
Trying to port voice acting into the mod raised multiple issues, according to Fallout 4: New Vegas project manager Meta, who spoke to Kotaku via email. First of all, in order to rip voice acting files, the team would’ve needed to decompile the game, which its EULA expressly forbids. Second, voice acting is tied up in a mess of contracts, and getting permission would’ve required a bunch of negotiating and money.
“Given the likely immense cost of this, and the unlikelihood of any of the involved parties being interested in such re-negotiations, it’s simply not an option for our team,” Meta explained.
Fallout 4: New Vegas, however, is still running full steam (and/or nuke-powered miniature fusion engine) ahead. The team has decided to assemble their own voice cast rather than drop all their hard work into a metaphorical Vegas desert ditch. This new plan requires more hard work, but of a different kind. It’s a tall and highly specific order to recreate iconic voices and scenes from a beloved video game, especially one with a setting as consistently obsessed-about as Fallout: New Vegas.
Meta told me that the team has two processes for voice actor recruitment: there’s an open call on the mod’s website that anybody can apply to, and then they have a specific “Casting Call Club” that searches for people to handle more important roles.
“We’ve had hundreds upon hundreds of applications for F4NV, but only a select few of those applications are accepted for a secondary audition, and fewer still brought on to join the voice team,” Meta said. “Our voice team director is an audio industry professional, and combined with feedback from other members of our senior project leadership, we sort through to pick out the best actors we can.”
A few days ago, the Fallout 4: New Vegas team revealed the latest fruits of their labor in the form of a complete version of New Vegas’ first moments, during which the kindly Doc Mitchell patches you up and helps you get your bearings after you got left for dead. The scene is a perfect recreation, now with smoother, more elaborate animations to boot. The actor they got to play Mitchell sounds strikingly similar to the real deal, albeit with a slightly slower cadence to his voice. It makes the scene feel a little different if you’re paying close attention, but for the most part, the recreations feels faithful to the original. Getting it just right, said Meta, was a painstaking process.
“Recording the lines for Doc Mitchell took us about 2-3 weeks all told, with time taken for retakes where needed,” he said. “Our voice team director works with the voice actors to coach them and help them to give their best possible performance. We generally provide them with a few lines to work with to help them dial in their performance, and then, working from the original audio and script, we work back and forth to record the character’s dialogue.”
Sometimes, the team tries to replicate the style of the original dialogue to a tee, but they’re not married to that approach. These modders love New Vegas, of course, but they don’t love all of its voice acting. Implementing the new voice acting burdens modders with even more work, but according to Meta, the team also sees it as an opportunity.
“While soundalikes are nice, some of the voice acting in New Vegas wasn’t ideal, or the actor wasn’t suited to the role they were cast in. To that end, we focus more on capturing the essence of a given character over just emulating exactly how they sounded,” Meta said. “Some of the team is even a little excited that we have the chance to do this, and there’s always a lot of excitement within our team when a new voice actor is accepted and joins on with us.”
That said, don’t expect the mod to be fully voice-acted—at least, not at first. Meta admitted that the scope of the voice acting implementation “borders on the insane,” so Fallout 4: New Vegas will release “regardless of voice acting being completed for all characters.”
The mod’s release date is still an open question. Other mods in the genre of “cram one Bethesda setting into another” have a way of never coming out; it feels like we won’t get to play full versions of Skywind and Skyblivion until well after people have started making mods to port Skyrim into The Elder Scrolls VI, for example. Meanwhile, the Fallout 4: New Vegas team has a lot of work ahead on cracking a number of tough developmental nuts.
“There’s still a lot of unknowns out there for us to tackle, and even some of the known variables are going to be long-term projects for us to work on so as to make F4NV possible as we envision it,” said Meta. “Brand new animations for new creature skeletons, for instance, are still pretty much a black box for much of the modding community, and as such we pretty much need to work forwards from what is known about Skyrim’s version of the system to come up with an entirely new workflow and toolset for use in Fallout 4.”
Still, the team is invigorated by the progress they’ve made so far, and also, the support they’ve received from Bethesda—odd as that might sound, in light of the whole voice acting situation.
“Given how Bethesda has been willing to go as far as showcase our work in the past, it’s very clear to us that there’s no ill will from their end, and we’re more thankful than anything that we’ve been allowed to continue development for as long as we have,” said Meta.